Sunday, May 31, 2009

eels - hombre lobo

The new album from Eels, Hombre Lobo, is a minor work. I don't mean to suggest that it's bad or disappointing, but while it's reliably melodic and well-crafted, it rarely surprised me. (The one truly out-of-the-box moment is the strong first single, "Fresh Blood.") My review is up at About.

Friday, May 29, 2009

albert brooks blows your mind -- in 3-d!

Up opens today in 3-D. Filmmakers have made major advancements in 3-D technology of late, but this trailer for Real Life from 1978 is still my favorite incorporation of the cinematic gimmick.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

spike lee brought barack and michelle obama together

Director Spike Lee has mentioned this story before, but he brings it up again in connection with the 20th anniversary of the release of his seminal film, Do the Right Thing. The Los Angeles Times put together an oral history about the film's production history over the Memorial Day weekend, and Lee couldn't resist:
Spike Lee: There was a benefit for Barack Obama on Martha's Vineyard when he was running for the Senate. I didn't really know who he was. He came over and said, "You're responsible for me and my wife getting together." Then he told me how they saw "Do the Right Thing" on their first date, and then went to Baskin-Robbins for ice cream and talked about it.

Roger Guenveur Smith [actor]
: We're actually responsible for a whole new era in American political achievement.

I think he is a very smart man, because if he had taken Michelle to see "Driving Miss Daisy," things would have turned out a whole lot different.
Driving Miss Daisy is, of course, the film that won the Best Picture Oscar that year.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

terminator salvation and the girlfriend experience

In my latest Consumables column, I sheepishly defend Terminator Salvation and heap praise on The Girlfriend Experience. Plus, I discuss O'Horten, Jerichow, Easy Virtue and Kobe Doin' Work.

Monday, May 25, 2009

thinking about jay bennett, and wilco

If you haven't heard, former Wilco member Jay Bennett died on Sunday.

His untimely passing got me thinking about the band. I used to be a huge Wilco hater, especially around 2002 when the overrated Yankee Hotel Foxtrot was being hailed as some sort of visionary piece of music-making. Soon after the album's release, I Am Trying to Break Your Heart, a documentary about YHF's making, was released, and I was pretty merciless in a review at the time. Looking back on it, I'm clearly responding more to the band's hype than the band itself, although I still think the documentary is too fawning and glossy. But this paragraph from my piece is interesting, in retrospect:
For a songwriter too often referred to as a poet in the press, [frontman Jeff] Tweedy doesn't make for an engaging film presence. Even his aloofness feels unremarkable. And the much-discussed fission between him and chief collaborator Bennett -- a man more than a little responsible for the deepening of Wilco's music over the years -- never really takes hold. What you have here are two strong personalities fighting over the future of a band, but [director Sam] Jones clearly favors Tweedy and therefore reduces Bennett to an easily discarded side character. The real story is far more fascinating: Bennett's assertions in the film that Tweedy is a little bit of an egomaniac, desperate to control the band, have been repeated by others in the past. But the film doesn't even consider the possibility. Tweedy (the hero) triumphs, and Bennett (the villain) is vanquished. No muss, no fuss, no drama, no gray area, no interest.
Of course, Bennett was supposedly a bit of a control-freak himself, so it's hardly as if Tweedy was the only guilty party. Still, re-reading this reminds me of how sympathetic I was to Bennett -- the film is fairly cruel to him. (I still recall how the audience laughed derisively at Bennett when, after he'd been kicked out of the group, he plays a solo show to a small smattering of fans at a tiny club -- what, was this some sort of karmic comeuppance for something he'd done?)

After a while, I got off my anti-Wilco kick -- Sky Blue Sky went a long way to helping in that regard. But with Bennett's passing, it brought back the fact that I still think Tweedy gets too much credit and Bennett not enough for the band's musical evolution.

the hangover

I don't think I've laughed more at a movie this year than while watching The Hangover, the new Todd Phillips comedy. I don't think it's quite as terrific as Wedding Crashers, but it's in the same ballpark -- my review is up at Screen International.

Friday, May 22, 2009

away we go: what other critics had to say

I already linked to my own review of Away We Go, the forthcoming Sam Mendes film. Let's take a look at what the other trades had to say -- and what I thought of what they thought.

Dennis Harvey of Variety:

Burt's a bit immature, and Verona, the grown-up of the couple, occasionally impatient (partly explained by the discomforts of advanced pregnancy). But the protags are essentially blank slates, despite the skill and charm Krasinski and Rudolph bring to the roles. It's their job simply to represent "normal" against so many illustrations of bad parenting, worse marriages and damaged adulthood. But given they're such harmlessly pleasant folk, why don't they have any non-messed-up friends?

Because that would un-stack the deck in a script that needs to paint them as two lonely souls in a hostile world. But in positing normal as special, the pic requires caricaturing almost everyone else.

While handled by resourceful actors, the foibles of the supporting characters are less funny than they are forced and unpleasant. Janney and Gyllenhaal in particular play figures venomously conceived.

I think Dennis is right about the caricaturing that goes on in some of the supporting roles. It's worse early on in the film, which doesn't make the road trip look all that promising for the viewer. But I do think Away We Go eventually eases up on the freak-show exhibits and starts getting into some honest emotions.

And while I agree about Janney, I thought Gyllenhaal was dead-on as the smug, more-enlightened-than-thou New Wave hippie. I've met these people, and she got it exactly right.

Michael Rechtshaffen of The Hollywood Reporter:

Obviously each destination offers a snapshot of the various challenges inherent in carving out the family unit one would like to create as opposed to the family into which one was born. But though it's nice to see Mendes take a looser, not quite so studied approach to his filmmaking, some stops along the way -- like a detour to visit Burt's suddenly single brother (Paul Schneider) -- feel dramatically off-course.

Production values have a nice, grassroots texture, including Ellen Kuras' cinematography and John Dunn's costume design, though musically the film could have packed a bit lighter where the extensive and occasionally intrusive acoustic song selection is concerned.

Michael's review hits on something important -- that while Away We Go represents a stylistic shift for Mendes, it's not that different from some of his other films when it comes to its study of domestic stability. I would say, however, that the couple's scenes with Schneider were some of my favorites, even if I didn't quite love the resolution to that sequence.

And I agree about Alexi Murdoch's score -- must every American mini-major independent film now come equipped with earnest acoustic-guitar doodlings?

guns n' roses - you could be mine

Happy Memorial Day weekend, people. Like a lot of you, I'll be checking out Terminator Salvation over the holiday. With that in mind, let's take it back to 1991 ....

away we go

Away We Go, from director Sam Mendes, is a bit of a departure for the filmmaker of American Beauty, Jarhead, and Revolutionary Road. It's a comedy-drama-road movie about a young unmarried couple expecting their first child and trying to figure out where to move to start their family.

My review in a nutshell:
Though burdened with an arch, overly clever temperament, the film remains resonant thanks to understated performances from stars John Krasinski and Maya Rudolph.
Rudolph especially is a revelation here -- she's a wonderfully naturalistic performer better known as a comedic actress from her years at Saturday Night Live.

The rest of the review is here.

dance flick

In 2000, my roommate at the time went to see Scary Movie, the spoof film from the Wayans brothers. He came back to our apartment with this threat: "If you go see that movie and you laugh even once, I'm moving out."

Dance Flick, the latest Wayans spoof, opens today. I'll admit I laughed a decent amount. I won't go as far as saying that I recommend the movie, but it's not completely terrible. My review is at Screen International.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

kids respond to yo la tengo's "little eyes"

If you've never seen this, you should check it out, especially if you love kids' drawings and/or the music of Yo La Tengo.

conan o'brien gives great life advice

From Lynn Hirschberg's fantastic New York Times Magazine profile, Conan O'Brien talks about the pressure to compete with Jay Leno and the weight of expectations as the new host of The Tonight Show:
“When I can’t sleep and it’s 3 in the morning, I’m not thinking about Jay. I’m thinking about all the things I want to do on the show. And I’m not thinking about how I’m going to change myself to fit a certain demographic. I just have to block that nonsense out. In entertainment, you have to stake out what you think is right, you have to put out that signal, make sure it’s pure and then do it and do it and do it and know that they will come. And if they don’t, you have to pack up your bags and say: ‘I enjoyed my time here. Sorry it didn’t work out.’ But the biggest mistake would be to alter my signal to make sure that I reach all these different people. Because then you’re lost.”
What comes through loud and clear in Hirschberg's piece is that O'Brien is just a great, genuine guy. I hope he kills in his new gig, even though he'll be running head-to-head with my beloved David Letterman.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

night at the museum: battle of the smithsonian

Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian is one of those rare sequels I prefer to the original. The first Night was pretty mediocre, but this new film has a secret weapon: Amy Adams. My review is up at Screen International.

the prodigy - invaders must die

The Prodigy just embarked on their first U.S. tour in forever. For Detroit's Metro Times, I review the dance-rock band's latest album, Invaders Must Die.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

barack obama wants to play forward on your basketball team

Obama's speech at the University of Notre Dame today had more meaningful moments, of course, but I particularly enjoyed this section:
I also want to congratulate the class of 2009 for all your accomplishments. And since this is Notre Dame, I mean both in the classroom and in the competitive arena. We all know about this university’s proud and storied football team, but I also hear that Notre Dame holds the largest outdoor 5-on-5 basketball tournament in the world - Bookstore Basketball.

Now this excites me. I want to congratulate the winners of this year’s tournament, a team by the name of “Hallelujah Holla Back.” Well done. Though I have to say, I am personally disappointed that the “Barack O’Ballers” didn’t pull it out. Next year, if you need a 6’2” forward with a decent jumper, you know where I live.

I'm not the only Obama supporter who thinks he's at his weakest when he's trying to be funny. But this was nicely handled.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

american teen

So, this is a new feature called Blind Spots that I'm going to be doing on this blog. It'll give me a chance to write about movies or albums or whatever that I missed during their initial run. I'll write them in the style of Consumables and, ideally, this exercise of going back will help me fill in some gaps. I'll write these whenever the spirit moves me.

American Teen
Here's a movie that worked on me despite itself. Documentary filmmaker Nanette Burstein (who co-directed the equally shallow The Kid Stays in the Picture) journeyed to an Indiana small town to follow a bunch of students over the course of their senior year. American Teen was the result, a deeply slick gloss of all the stereotypes we remember from our adolescence -- the jock, the bitchy popular girl, the cool artistic outsider. The narrative structure is everything you've come to hate from the proliferation of reality TV in the last decade -- every conflict has a resolution, every single second of real life is part of a story arc.

But, as I said, I have to admit that the film touched me. Perhaps not even realizing it, Burstein does her best work when showing her subjects' thought process when it comes to choosing a college. American Teen does a fine job illuminating that most crucial of early decisions in a person's life
-- what a momentous decision at such a young age. And while Burstein doesn't tell me anything I don't know about adolescent boys, she seems to have gotten to the root of young women's insecurities. The charge against American Teen that the filmmaker's cameras inspired the students to act out is fair, but there is a benefit -- Burstein's young ladies really open up and seem comfortable around her.

Still, a movie like American Teen irritates me because it's yet another documentary that's more of a documentary-lite. There aren't really that many observations or insights to it -- but, it's, y'know, real life, so that means it's true.

Friday, May 15, 2009

all i care to say about lakers-rockets game 7

Sports Illustrated's Scott Howard-Cooper sums up this Sunday's game perfectly:
To not win a championship would be the Lakers falling short of their expectations and the expectations of many. To not so much as reach the conference finals when they had home-court advantage and a wounded team on the line would be a monumental setback. Sunday is for their legacy, not just for their playoff lives.
If you get beat by a better team, you may not like it, but you live with it. But if you get beat by a team that's not as good -- not even close, frankly -- then it suggests a real lack of character and mental toughness. And that I cannot stand.

yeah yeah yeahs - zero

Love this song -- love it, love it, love it. Here's Yeah Yeah Yeahs playing it on Saturday Night Live.

And here's the original video for the single.

night at the museum

So, this is a new feature called Blind Spots that I'm going to be doing on this blog. It'll give me a chance to write about movies or albums or whatever that I missed during their initial run. I'll write them in the style of Consumables and, ideally, this exercise of going back will help me fill in some gaps. I'll write these whenever the spirit moves me.

Night at the Museum
When this movie came out around Christmas 2006, the critical consensus was something like, "Eh, it's not bad." That's sorta how I feel about it, too -- if the filmmakers had spent just a little more time with the story, they might have really had something. Instead, it's yet another family comedy where too much of the humor comes from frantic action executed at high volumes. Of the cast, Robin Williams gives the best performance -- he dials down his excesses, and he's actually effectively poignant as Teddy Roosevelt. I haven't read the book that the film's based on, so I don't know if the big plot holes are the fault of author Milan Trenc or screenwriters Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon, but I would have given just about anything for the whole film just to be Ben Stiller's interactions with his onscreen son, Jake Cherry. Cherry doesn't act like your typical movie kid, thank god, and Stiller has a real sweetness in those scenes.

Still, this is just another divorced-father family film, although I'm happy there's no forced attempt to get him to reconcile with his former wife (Kim Raver) at the end to make everyone happy. And, yes, it's worth noting that Night at the Museum actually endorses the importance of knowing history -- not just the Civil War but, y'know, the whole world's. But what was most interesting was that the film's setup echoes our current financial crisis in an eerie way. Stiller needs to find a job -- any job -- as quickly as possible or he'll get evicted from his place. Meanwhile, his former wife's new husband, Paul Rudd, is a jerky Master of the Universe. Stiller refers to him as a stockbroker, but Raver corrects him -- he's a bond trader. If the movie came out now, Stiller would seem even more like the noble hero, while Rudd would be set up to inspire boos and hisses from the audience -- isn't he one of the creeps who got us into the mess we're in now?

Thursday, May 14, 2009

brian williams loves jay-z

We learned today in an interview with Rolling Stone that NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams is a big indie-music geek. We also learned this:
Q: When you prepare your newscast, what do you listen to?

A: Something quick that gets your energy up. The other night, I was listening to Jay-Z's "Dirt Off Your Shoulder." That was the last song I listened to before going on air. I was tempted to go on and say "Yeah, boy!" but I didn't. It was close.
Me, I prefer "99 Problems" off The Black Album. But just by a smidge. And I'm never tempted to say "Yeah, boy!" while listening to either track, much to the relief of all those around me.

not forgotten

Not Forgotten is a B-movie thriller starring Simon Baker as a nice guy with a Mysterious Past. That never ends well. My review is at L.A. Weekly.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

the shins' james mercer knows that his band is for wussies

From the Los Angeles Times' interview with James Mercer of the Shins:
He knows fans will be waiting and that for others, the Shins will remain a symbol of the soft, contemplative side of indie rock, and therefore a target for contempt. Mercer understands.

"I remember being in high school," he says with a laugh, "and you had to draw those lines and define yourself. I don't think when I was in high school I would have been willing to admit that I liked the Shins. I was into TSOL and Black Flag. I probably would have listened to the Shins secretly in my bedroom."
As someone who was into Matthew Sweet, Public Enemy, R.E.M. and Nirvana in high school, I think I would have dug the Shins. I'm starting to look ahead to best-of-the-decade listmaking, and I have to say: I think Chutes Too Narrow is going to place very high on my album list.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

kids say the darnedest things: summer movie edition

Every year around this time, Los Angeles Times writer Patrick Goldstein rounds up a bunch of teenagers to gauge their interest in different summer movie trailers. It may be rather unscientific and silly, but I do find myself looking forward to hearing the teens' reactions.

The best comment this year has to go to Jasmine Jafari, 15, who had the following reaction to the trailer for Drag Me to Hell:
The crazy old lady, who keeps saying 'You're going to burn in hell,' reminded me of one of those nutty Proposition 8 people. She was really scary.
Accurate indication of how the next generation feels about gay marriage? We'll have to wait and see.

green day - 21st century breakdown review

There are two camps: those who dismiss Green Day for selling out a long time ago and those who will love 21st Century Breakdown. Guess what camp I'm in?

Monday, May 11, 2009

star trek, star blech

Did I like Star Trek? Yeah, ultimately I did. But it's way overrated. I go into that in the latest Consumables -- I also review State of Play, Sugar, Tyson, Sin Nombre, Il Divo and Anvil!

Friday, May 08, 2009

tom waits - i don't wanna grow up

My favorite Tom Waits album? Probably Bone Machine. "I Don't Wanna Grow Up" is on it. Jim Jarmusch directed the video. In some ways, this is a precursor to The Limits of Control. Actually, it's not at all.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

tony la russa reacts to the news of manny ramirez's suspension

From sportswriter Jimmy Golen's AP story:
St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was talking to reporters before Thursday’s game against Pittsburgh when a clubhouse attendant stuck his head in and said: “Manny Ramirez, 50 games.”

La Russa’s first reaction: “You’re kidding me.”

Then he checked the schedule to see whether the Cardinals would be playing the Dodgers while Ramirez is out.
That's why we love La Russa.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

the whatever works poster

Vulture premieres the poster for Whatever Works. Fun Quiz: Whose name do you not see in big letters on it?

dan deacon - bromst

Dan Deacon is one of 2009's most-hyped talents thanks to his recent album, Bromst. I try to get to the bottom of it over at Detroit's Metro Times.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

the onion pulls out of los angeles

No, that headline isn't a joke. From Gawker:
An Onion staffer whispers to us that the humor publication has already laid off editorial and sales staff for its Los Angeles and San Francisco print editions, which will, said the staffer, cease publication.

Tomorrow's editions of The Onion are said to be the last ones for those markets.
Like a lot of people, I fell in love with The Onion online in college but slowly got tired of its repetitive formula. In the last few years, though, I've started picking it up around town and fell back in love with it. This news bums me out: what am I going to read now when I go to Swingers?

lucian piane (a.k.a. revolucian) speaks

Musician Lucian Piane is the mastermind behind the great "Bale Out," the dance remix of Christian Bale's on-set tirade during filming of Terminator Salvation. When he does his awesome viral remixes, he goes by RevoLucian, but in person Piane couldn't be a nicer, sweeter guy. I profiled him for L.A. Weekly. (Forgive the horribly mangled sentence in the first paragraph -- it happened after I sent in my piece.)

Sunday, May 03, 2009

steven soderbergh nails the critic's dilemma

Steven Soderbergh, a rather smart fellow, articulating the problem critics face when trying to write at length about movies or any other kind of art...
On the one hand, in theory, if you write about movies you can go on the Internet and write a 5,000-word piece on something if you're so moved. The question is whether anybody will get to word 500 before they go, 'Oh Jesus, just tell me how many stars.' Culturally, that kind of question of whether there is a place for that kind of ruminative, complex criticism, that's an open question, and not just for cinema, for everything.
I'm, by nature, a letter-grader. When I started watching films as a kid, I would assign them a certain amount of stars. (When Entertainment Weekly came along, if memory serves, I switched to letter-grades.) I see the value in it, but I also think a writer's analysis is more important. That's one of the reasons why I like the format of Consumables -- I don't list my grade, so I have to try my best in the write-up to approximate my level of love or hate for the movie/album/TV show/single I'm covering. Which is what a critic is ultimately supposed to do, right?

Saturday, May 02, 2009

judge judy vs. michele bachmann

The brilliant ladies of Jezebel have done it again.

Friday, May 01, 2009

the thermals - now we can see

Folks, I love the Thermals, and I particularly love their new album, Now We Can See. This is the title track.

rick ankiel on the cardinals' promising start

Rick Ankiel got the big hit in the ninth last night to beat the Washington Nationals. Afterward, he summed up St. Louis' season (to this point, anyway) pretty well:
“Last year, if we lost a lead late, it seemed like our bats were dead and we just didn’t come around,” Ankiel said. “It’s early, but as early as it is, it seems like the game is never over with this team. We’ve always got a chance to come back.”
I've noticed that, too. There's no reason to even start talking about this baseball season seriously yet -- it's not even May 15 -- but thus far in the National League, both the Cardinals and Dodgers have been adept at getting late-inning hits to win games. And that's part of the reason they're the top two teams in the NL right now -- although, again, it's only May 1.

wolverine vs. the limits of control

X-Men Origins: Wolverine is the big movie of the weekend, although for a different crop of moviegoers, Jim Jarmusch's The Limits of Control is the must-see flick. I review them both for Consumables, plus I discuss Every Little Step, Goodbye Solo and Rudo y Cursi.